Link 2: www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/s_560152.html (Updated 4/2/08)
An electronic publication of
The Allegheny Institute for Public Policy
March 25, 2008
Volume 8, Number 20
Crucial Decision Time Comes To Mt. Lebanon
After holding fairly steady for decades, Census estimates of Mt. Lebanon’s population point to a significant drop since 2000. The 2006 estimate of 30,836 represents a decline of 6.6 percent from the 33,017 figure recorded in 2000. This rate of decrease, if sustained, will lead to very serious consequences for the people, government and school system in this highly regarded Pennsylvania community.
Meanwhile, the school district’s earned income tax receipts (with a constant 0.5 percent tax rate) climbed only 12.9 percent over the seven years 2000 to 2007, a meager 1.7 percent yearly rate and about half the inflation rate over the period—meaning real income has declined. Earned income tax receipts measure the income households generated through salaries and wages earned by employed residents and net income of business owners living in Mt. Lebanon. It does not measure pension and Social Security income. Still, growth in earned income is an excellent indicator of general economic vitality. Thus, the anemic pace of earned income tax collection points to softness in the underpinnings of Mt. Lebanon’s economic well being.
Unfortunately, the municipal government and the school district have not taken into account the declining population and weak earned income growth in their budgeting decisions. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that non-capital expenditures for the municipality have risen by over 6 percent per year since 2000 while non-capital spending at the schools have climbed by almost 5 percent annually—in both instances several times faster than earned income growth. To support the rapid spending increases, property tax revenues for both the municipality and school district have risen in excess of 6 percent annually since 2000.
For the most part, the jump in real estate tax revenue reflects millage increases necessitated by the slow pace of earned income tax revenues and no growth in Mt. Lebanon’s total assessed property value. Indeed, since 2003 and following the last County reassessment and freeze in assessments, the school district has raised its millage rate by 30 percent or at an average yearly rate of 6.8 percent. Trailing the school district only slightly, the municipality has raised its millage rate 20 percent since 2003. Combined the municipal and school millages now stand at 28.35 mills, up 28 percent from 2003. With the county’s 4.69 mills included, total millage in Mt. Lebanon has reached 33.04 mills or 3.3 percent of assessed value, which in Allegheny County is 100 percent of the County’s estimate of base year (2002) market value.
In that regard, the assessed value of real estate in Mt. Lebanon has failed to increase over the last four years. In fact, the assessed value fell by 4.7 percent from 2006 to 2007, undoubtedly due to appeals.
Evidently, the school board that prepared the 2007-2008 budget completely missed the statistics presented in the previous paragraphs. They project tax revenue receipts will rise a further 17 percent over the next three budget years. With assessed value of real estate not rising and maybe even dropping further, a 17 percent increase in revenues implies hefty millage rate hikes. And this is to occur even though enrollment is projected to slip nearly three percent (148 students) over the next three years and there is a planned matching three percent reduction (14 teachers) in the instructional staff.
According to historical data in its 2007 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, the district had 5,659 students in 1998 along with 372 teachers and a pupil to teacher ratio of 15.2. From 1998 to 2005, the teaching staff rose to 431, a 16 percent increase or 59 additional instructors. By 2005 the student enrollment had dipped to 5,505, which, combined with the jump in teaching staff, had lowered the pupil to teacher ratio to 12.8. Assuming that a large part of teacher’s workload (grading tests and papers, evaluating assignments, individualized attention, maintaining discipline, etc.) is proportional to the number of students, the decline in pupil to teacher ratio means the teacher’s classroom workload was reduced by close to 16 percent.
From 2005 to 2007, the student count continued to fall, dropping to 5,436, and the number of instructors was lowered to 424, leaving the pupil to teacher ratio at 12.8. Unfortunately, as measured by one of the key indicators of academic success, Mt. Lebanon—a perennial state leader in test scores—has seen no net improvement in SAT results from 1998 to 2007. In 1998, the district posted an average combined math and reading SAT score of 1152. In 2007, the combined average SAT score was 1141.
In effect, the large rise in current and future personnel expenditures necessitated by the increased teacher count have produced no meaningful improvement in the basic test of academic achievement. Granted, the district was near the top of the state’s public schools in 1998 and is still there. Boosting scores from the already high level is very difficult. But that begs the question: If a 15.2 pupil to teacher ratio was able to accomplish the excellent results of 1998, why was it necessary to engage in a substantial spending increase to get so little in return? Did the kids suddenly become harder to teach? Were teachers suddenly unable to perform as well in the past?
The problem is that now with the pupil to teacher ratio having been lowered it will be forcefully argued the district can never go back to the 1998 student-teacher ratio for fear academic results will plummet. This is a classic spending trap and typical of the decisions that ratchet government spending ever higher.
It is instructive to compare the tax burden of other school districts in the region to those in Mt. Lebanon. This can be done by using the ratio of actual real estate taxes collected by the school district to the market value of property as calculated by the State Tax Equalization Board. The school property tax burden in Mt. Lebanon is 2.58 percent of market value. For Mars Area schools in Butler County the ratio is 1.37 percent, for Seneca Valley in Butler the ratio is 1.47 and for Peters’ schools in Washington County the ratio is 1.7 percent. Bear in mind that Peters students scored at almost the same level of advanced and proficient as Mt. Lebanon on the state’s PSSA tests.
In short, Mt. Lebanon property owners are paying 50 percent more school taxes per dollar of market value than Peters property owners and 88 percent more than Mars Area district property tax payers.
The bottom line to this discussion is that Mt. Lebanon and Mt. Lebanon schools have become unnecessarily and excessively burdensome for the community’s taxpayers. Unless or until the tax burdens are reduced, the outflow of people, the decline in real wage income and slide in school enrollment will almost certainly continue. As that happens, the high tax burden has to be paid by fewer residents and becomes more onerous for those who remain. It is a scenario that just gets worse over the long run.
Absent a major upturn in the economic fortunes of the region and Allegheny County in the near future, which would seem to be a remote possibility at this point, it is absolutely essential that Mt. Lebanon and the school district immediately begin to rein in costs, cut spending and lower tax rates. Time is not a friend of municipal government or school district budget makers.
Jake Haulk, Ph.D., President
Note: Register now for the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference which is being held on April 25th and 26th at the Four Points Sheraton in Harrisburg. This year's keynote speaker is Michelle Malkin with the Honorable Michael Steele kicking off the conference. The conference will include interactive panel presentations on critical policy issues and exhibits by over 30 conservative organizations. Early bird registration rates end on March 31st. For more information and to register, please visit the website at paleadershipconference.org.
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The Mt. Lebanon Area DUI Task Force will conduct roving patrols today through Sunday, looking for motorists who are intoxicated or under the influence of narcotics.
The task force includes police from Baldwin Township, Bridgeville, Castle Shannon, South Fayette, Green Tree, Mt. Lebanon and Scott.
Labels: DUI task force
Below is an email sent by Anne Kemerer. As a former Trustee of the Library I completely agree with Anne's statements and concerns. Mr. Humphreys is not a friend of our public library, and his appointment to the Board of Trustees would be yet another step in the municipality's attempt to control this public treasure. Please call the commissioners who voted in favor of this appointment and tell them that you strongly disagree with this action. If you have any questions please feel free to contact Anne or me. My home # is 412-341-4463 and my office # is 412-922-9090. This is urgent. If you love your library please make the call.
Mt. Lebanon Public Library Board of Trustees
Dear library friends:
I learned this morning that David Humphreys has been appointed to one of the open positions on the Library Board. This is a very, very bad thing for the Mt. Lebanon Public LIbrary, as Mr. Humphreys had indicated time and again that he believe that the library is mismanaged, that money is being spent frivolously, the the library offers too many programs, etc. Mr. Humphreys has consistently treated Cynthia Richey and the Library Board of Trustees with disdain and disrespect during budget meetings, and was the main proponent in appointing Marcia Taylor to the Board two years ago to help "rein in costs".
Some of the facts are:
- Since 2000, circulation has risen by an average of 4.8% per year while our municipal budget allocation has only risen by 2.4% per year.
- The library has not spent more than it was budgeted in at least the last 8 years.
This position was clearly given to Mr. Humphreys as a political favor - the democrats on the commission voted against him and the republicans voted for - since he is hugely inappropriate as a candidate.
HE IS NOT A FRIEND TO OUR LIBRARY!!! He wants to cut costs, cut services, cut staff, and cut "amenities", like computers and programs.
WE NEED YOUR HELP!!!
This appointment was made last night, but does not become official until the installation in three weeks. CALL OR EMAIL YOUR COMMISSIONER (or all the commissioners who voted for Mr. Humphreys) NOW with your objection to this appointment!!!
Here are the contacts (from the municipal web site) of the ones who voted for Mr. Humphreys:
Ward 1: Raja: email@example.com 412-341-7252
Ward 3: Joe DeIuliis: firstname.lastname@example.org 412-670-2584
Ward 4: Dale Colby: email@example.com 412-341-9473
This is an important appointment. In combination with Marcia Taylor, who is already sitting on the board as a watchdog, David Humphreys will work to cut, cut, cut, making our library no more than a book distribution center, not the thriving intellectual hub that it is now.
Thank you for any help you can provide!
Labels: mt lebanon library
Labels: richard baumhammers
February 1, 2008, Mt Lebanon - Mt Lebanon’s Special Education Advisory Council plans to host a panel discussion called, “Defining the Systems” on March 26, 2008 from 6:30-8:30pm at the Mt Lebanon High School Library (entrance c-28).
Panel guests include Robert Mallery, Principal at Markham Elementary School; Linda Beebe Teacher at Howe Elementary School; Ann White, Special Education Teacher at Mellon Middle School; Noreen Scholl-Winans, Speech and Language Pathologist; Amy Weingarden, Parent.
This event will begin at 6:30 with a thirty-minute social and then the presentation will begin with the panelists giving a short introductory about what their role is in the special education system. The panel discussion will also allow the opportunity for a “question/answer” segment.
For further information about this event please call (412) 854-0911 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
### The Mt. Lebanon Special Education Advisory Council is a collaboration of parents, teachers, administrators, and school board members. Composed of four committees; Communication, Transition, FAQ and Education. We are dedicated to supporting the special education department and the families it serves. We strive to assist special needs students to reach their highest potential. In partnership with the district's mission, we are committed to provide the best education possible for every student.
Labels: special education
By comparison, over the last month Blog-Lebo had just over 17,000 pageviews, just over 8,500 visits, and just over 2,900 unique visitors. Blog-Lebo is available online 24 hours per day worldwide. I am told that it may be inaccessible in repressive countries such as China, off-limits for City of Pittsburgh employees, and blocked by the Mt. Lebanon School District.
a circulation of 21,000 [and] is mailed to every household and business in Mt. Lebanon, goes to leaders in business, government and the arts throughout Allegheny County, and is available at neighborhood libraries as well as at coffee shops, health clubs and professional offices.
mtl's mission [is] to inform and entertain readers, providing information they need to get involved the municipal decision-making process, encouraging them to take part in community life and engendering pride in the many good things Mt. Lebanon has to offer . . . . That doesn't mean mtl won't cover problems, threats or challenges in the community, but it does mean that when we cover a negative -- a rise in crime, drug and alcohol use among teens or traffic issues, for example, we try to present the subject in a constructive way, focusing not just on the problem but on solutions that are being explored.
That sounds fine. And:
mtl will never purposely embarrass or malign a resident or a valued community institution -- that is simply not our role.
Good -- I was worried for a moment. I'm still looking forward to an mtl story on the many walking paths and stairs that offer shortcuts throughout town, how they serve as important community and neighborhood resources, and what the municipality is doing to explore solutions when conflicts arise -- like this one -- and to encourage public awareness and discussion of the difficult choices that arise when public interest touches private property.
Still in the talk stages is the possibility of a municipal blog that would allow residents to express their opinions and talk with each other about emerging issues.Because if you rely on mtl for your Mt. Lebanon news, you would think that Mt. Lebanon has nothing like that now. Of course it does -- check out Suburbia Calling. And Aldo Coffee's blog. And the Planet Art Blog. And the Mt. Lebanon Library blog. Just to name a few Mt. Lebanon citizen and community blogs that I like.